WASHINGTON – Tourism-industry representatives recently gave key members of Congress an overview of how the BP oil spill has affected restaurants, hotels and the Gulf Coast tourism industry in a June 29 Capitol Hill briefing. Sponsored by the National Restaurant Association, U.S. Travel Association and American Hotel & Lodging Association, the presentations were directed at the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus and legislative staffers.

Speakers called for a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to help small businesses recover from disaster for this summer and for the long-term. They anticipate businesses will suffer for months or years from perceptions that tourist destinations remain affected by the disaster. The long-term perception problems likely will be more costly to tourism than the immediate damage, they added.

“We’re all terrified,” said Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), a member of the travel caucus.

A variety of recreation, retail and business services, the lodging and restaurant industries and businesses that supply them are at stake, said Adam Sacks, managing director, Tourism Economics.

“It’s unlike any crisis we’ve faced,” said Chris Thompson, president and chief executive officer, Visit Florida. Hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires come and go -- and the state recovers, he added.

Mr. Thompson pointed out tourism is the state’s No. 1 business. Its 80 million visitors pump $60 billion into the economy annually and $4 billion in state sales tax, more than one-fifth of the state’s income from sales tax. About a fourth of the visitors visit during the summer.

During the three summer months, most restaurants, lodging operations and charter boat companies take in 70% of their annual income. And most are small businesses, Mr. Thompson said.

“A whole lot more has to be done to ensure the sustainability of all the small businesses along the Gulf Coast,” he concluded.